Feb 16, 2024 - Health

Health care workers say patient discrimination is a big problem

Data: The Commonwealth Fund/The African American Research Collaborative; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: The Commonwealth Fund/The African American Research Collaborative; Chart: Axios Visuals

More than half of health care workers say racial discrimination against patients is a major problem or crisis, while nearly half report seeing it happen in their own workplaces, according to a large national survey.

Why it matters: It's well-documented how racism in health care settings can harm patients' health. But witnessing it can also hurt health care workers' wellbeing, potentially making it more difficult to hire and retain staff as serious provider shortages loom, according to the Commonwealth Fund and the African American Research Collaborative, who conducted the survey.

By the numbers: Black and Latino health care workers were more likely to report seeing racial or ethnic discrimination against patients compared with Asian American and Pacific Islander and white workers.

  • There's also a generational divide: 64% of health care workers ages 18 to 29 said they've seen patients face discrimination, compared with 25% of workers 60 and older.
  • Nearly half of health care workers (48%) said medical professionals are more accepting when white patients advocate for themselves than when Black patients do the same.
  • 57% said patients who don't speak English don't always get the same level of care as English-speaking patients.

Zoom in: Researchers last spring surveyed 3,000 health care workers representing 26 different job titles, including doctors, nurses, dental hygienists and mental health workers.

  • About half (47%) said discrimination in the field causes them at least some stress, with higher rates among Latino (63%) and Black (66%) health care workers compared with white workers.
  • To reduce discrimination, Commonwealth and AARC suggested that health care systems make it easier for workers and patients to submit anonymous reports, train staff to recognize unfair treatment, and introduce more opportunities to listen to patients and workers of color.
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